Here’s something a little different–a magazine interview with that famed authoress of Three Weeks, that chooser of “It” girls, that grand dame of romance herself–Elinor Glyn! I wrote a piece on Glyn and her famed novel awhile back, and it’s been one of my favorite “Personalities” articles ever since.
There was a time when Glyn was considered the expert in the “moonlight and magnolias” type of love–and happily marketed herself as such. She had hair dyed “Titian red,” was rumored to travel with a tiger skin rug, and apparently coached Valentino in his romantic scenes. If you aren’t too familiar with this romance novelist-turned-screenwriter, Gloria Swanson’s fantastic description pretty much says it all:
She took over Hollywood. She went everywhere and passed her fearsome verdicts on everything. “This is glamorous,” she would say. “This is hideous,” she would say, as she baby-stepped through this or that dining room or garden party. People moved aside for her as if she were a sorceress on fire or a giant sting ray.
This interview from the December 1921 issue of Motion Picture Magazine (one of my favorite vintage publications) is interesting for a few reasons. First, there’s the buildup of Glyn as a well-travelled sophisticate, deigning to grace bourgeois Hollywood with her presence. Clearly the sort of gal who talked like Margaret Dumont in the Marx Brothers movies! Then there’s the darn masterful way she talks to the interviewer. She manages to wildly flatter the film community while simltaneously bashing it for its vices–pretty much making herself bulletproof in any event. Amazingly, this gets us excited about her upcoming tell-all articles! This is a woman who knew precisely what she was doing.
Plus she not-so-humblebrags about cavorting with the crowned heads of Europe–who uses that phrase nowadays? So without further ado, here it is:
THE ALTAR OF ALCOHOL
As described by Elinor Glyn to Gordon Gassaway
Picture, if you will, a woman who has spent the greater part of her maturing life in and about the courts of Europe, intermingling wih the keenest intellects of her day; achieving international prominence for herself in the field of letters–
Then imagine this woman suddenly transplanted into the very heart of a film colony with its maelstrom of production, its social vagaries, its high lights and low-lights–and unfortunately, too, at times, its low-lifes. Imagine her beginning life anew amid unfamiliar surroundings–
Imagine then–Elinor Glyn in Hollywood.
Madam Glyn, together with Ella Wheeler Wilcox, has achieved her greatest prominence in the public mind for her personal interpretation of souls stirred by passions.
It is interesting to hear her impressions, how she regarded the personalities which have sprung into prominence on the American screen; what he thinks of Hollywood’s great beauties; of Hollywood itself.
When Elinor Glyn moved in on Hollywood, she announced that she was in search of a Perfect Man in America and that such a man should be found in Hollywood, where it is believed that all the perfect men go, either before or after they die.
Did she find her perfect man? And what does she think of movie men anyway, of their lives, of their morals?
After talking to her in her lavender-draped boudoir at the Hollywood Hotel, where all prominent authors go, it is evident she thinks a mindful.
“I have never seen so many perfect human beings together in one place in my life!” she explained with a a glance out of her marine-green eyes across the tips of the palms branching up toward her windows from the hotel gardens.
“And Hollywood is itself a Fountain of Youth. I am ten years younger than when I came here a few months ago. The spirit of youth pervades the movies. I dance here–and I never danced before in my life.
“The movies themselves are young, and they have attracted youth to them. I don’t care whether it is at Fort Lee, or Culver City, or Hollywood–wherever there are movie studios there stands Youth incarnate. But alas–it is a youth which is sometimes prone to burn the candle at both ends and in the middle. Splendid young men are, in some instances, throwing their lives away on the Altar of Alcohol–and it is not such very good alcohol at that. I worship clean youth–but it must be clean. I cannot stand a taint, either in morals on in character–it is as repugnant to me as the smell of stale liquor on a young man’s breath!”
“Don’t you think,” I put in, “that absolute lack of brain development, plus a large sense of mimicry, fits a person best for a motion picture career?”
“I do not,” she flashed back at me, distracting my attention from a rather worn tiger-skin, which coered a lavender couch heaped with pillows of many pastel shades.
“I think that every actor and actress in the films who wishes to reach and maintain the top of the ladder should study. They should study history, and the drama–and English. Most of them are not what we in England would call well educated. They are too young for that. Many of them were taken out of high school to go into pictures, so now they should secure good tutors and have themselves well informed.”
“Who,” I asked apropos of nothing, “is the world’s greatest lover?”
“Wallace Reid,” replied Madam Glyn without hesitation.
“And who,” I went on, “is the world’s greatest screen actress?”
“Miriam Batista. You remember her as the little girl in ‘Humoresque.’ She is really the only perfect actress on the screen today.”
“But what of Gloria Swanson, and Mary Pickford, and Pauline Frederick?”
“Miss Swanson has her very great moments–greater perhaps than many other women acting today–so does Miss Frederick. As for Mary Pickford she is alone in her supremacy–but Miriam Batista as an actress is perfect. She is the only perfect actress on the screen. Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks are also very great–these people are the kings and queens of the world. It is said of me that I enjoy the company of the members of the European royal families better than that of my own countrymen, or of Americans. In other words, that I am a snob. Whether or not that is true, right here in Hollywood I have found as many crowned heads as I ever found in Europe. Only here they are crowned with the crown of success and achievement.
“A diadem does not interest me, but I love the Infanta of Spain, as I did many members of the Russian royal house, because, as individuals, they were intellectual and agreeable. It is their business to study and be interesting.
“I think movie folk should also make it their business. But I have enver found a class of people so generous, so broad-minded and so self-sacrificing as the player-people of Hollywood. Hollywood, at present, is brimful of splendid raw materials–almost perfect–but in many instances this raw material in the shape of young men is slipping distressingly downhill.”
“You are going to champion the people of the movies, I understand, in a series of articles you are writing for the Motion Picture Magazine?”
“I am,” answered Madam Glyn, adjusting a lavender pillow behind her shoulders with hands which are white and firm. “I am going to tell about the Hollywood I know after a sojourn of months in its midst–I am not going to be fearful of facts–but I am going to tell, too, of the sincere and earnest folk, the indefatigable workers I have met–I am glad of this opportunity to champion the peope who have made the world’s recreation hours such pleasant affairs.”
Elinor Glyn sees Hollywood in comparison to the intellectual courts of the old countries–she knows life minutely–the movie folk are fortunate in her championiship at the present moment.